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Ransom Tony Schultz, Interview 2

Tony Ransom (R.T.) Schultz was interviewed on February 21, 1975 by Bob Wright in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this excerpted portion of the longer interview, Tony talks about observations and experiences when working as a pilot out of Cape Thompson in the early 1960s. These include seeing an odd cloud when flying out of Kotzebue in 1962 that he thinks was from a Russian atomic test,and the U-2 airplane that landed at Kotzebue.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 75-01

Project: Cold War in Alaska
Date of Interview: Feb 21, 1975
Narrator(s): Ransom Tony Schultz
Interviewer(s): Bob Wright
Transcriber: Jessica Obermiller
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Historical Commission, Alaska Humanities Forum, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Seeing an odd cloud when flying between Kotzebue and Cape Thompson in 1962

Thinking the cloud was from a gas fire

Belief that cloud and fire was from Russian atomic test

U-2 airplane landing at Kotzebue

Testing for radiation

Height of cloud and explanation of where it came from

Environmental and atmospheric conditions at the time when flying

Working as a pilot on the Cape Thompson project in the 1960s

Personal background, and uncle's first experience driving a car

Advances in technology in his lifetime

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


BOB WRIGHT: Did you want to talk about the Kotzebue sighting? TONY SCHULTZ: Yeah. Right. BOB WRIGHT: Why don't we go right onto that, then.

TONY SCHULTZ: Okay. My subject is a little bit different. The date is much later. In September 1962, I was flying out of Kotzebue. I was supposed to be on the big aircraft, but again I got stuck with some deal that somebody else didn't want.

So, on September 14th I was flying between Kotzebue and Cape Thompson. I generally stayed overnight at Cape Thompson after doing the shopping or expediting picking up the mail for the Cape Thompson project.

This particular afternoon the clouds were at approximately 2500 feet, and I decided to climb to 6500. That's six-thousand five-hundred. Because it looked so clear up above.

And approximately 3:15, while I was enroute and probably about half way to Cape Thompson, I saw a peculiar cylindrical-type cloud rise far above the other clouds to approximately a west/southwest position from my position at that time then, roughly half or two-thirds of the way to Cape Thompson.

In the evening, I mentioned this to the radio man and he said, "Well, we just heard on the news that the Russians have set off another atomic blast."

Somehow or other they gave this information to the Nome radio. Nome newspaper, rather. And this remark was carried in the local paper, and I was ridiculed by most of the people, including the pilots and president of Wien Airlines.

However, on September 22nd I had left Cape Thompson late in the afternoon to deliver some men to Kiana, and on returning I was just west of Noatak village and flying at approximately 3000 feet when I saw what I thought was an aircraft flying into or crashing in the ocean.

The area to the west became lit up by what appeared to be a cloud of fire.

This was so wild, is the only word I know to describe it, wherein the dark streaks through the edges of it were boiling just like a gasoline fire.

I knew that I needed a lot of information right away, so I -- First thing was to check the clock in the aircraft to get the time. It was 5:59, one minute to 6:00pm Friday night.

BOB WRIGHT: What was the date again, then, Tony?

TONY SCHULTZ: September 22nd, 1962. While I watched this, looking at it -- hoping to get other clues, I notice that after approximately one and a quarter minutes, the -- a sphere descended from this cloud of fire.

I now know that it wasn't a -- a burning gasoline when I could see this object descend from it.

As you know at night, there's no depth perception since I couldn't tell how close to the surface it was, or also how far away it is.

It took this sphere approximately between thirty-five and forty seconds to descend until it was below the horizon. As you know, with the rate of decent fixed at approximately 120 feet per second, one could figure out approximately how high this cloud of fire was.

This fire continued to boil and roll around the edges as I describe the gasoline fire. It looked -- the streaks around the edges of it, the dark smoke, looked very similar.

But, I noticed then that there appeared on the surface a rosy glow. I attribute this to this ball of fire having descended to the surface.

After approximately two minutes, the air had probably expanded, and through the middle of this area were two white lines. These lines were as straight as if they were drawn by a yard stick and parallel to one another.

I called them lines of pressure, and I had a sense that's right since this explosion had driven the pressure away they were probably lines of negative pressure.

After approximately three minutes, the fire, the pool of fire as I recall it, was cooling off and disintegrating, and there seemed to be some fall out or ash in between this and the ground.

At the end of four minutes, the cloud of fire had disappeared, however, there was still this rosy glow just over the horizon.

As you know, our -- our newspaper people told us that the Russians were setting this off at a point approximately 1,200 miles northwest of East Cape in Siberia. Yet, the sightings I observed were within approximately 100 miles to the west I estimate of East Cape.

Then, the next -- since this was Friday night, there wasn't any action taken Saturday or Sunday. However, Secretary Bartlett -- Or, no, excuse me, Senator Bartlett on Monday morning was called into President Kennedy's office.

He was given a short piece of -- strip of teletype paper and President Kennedy said, "Senator Bartlett, do you know this man?”

And Senator Bartlett told me later, he said, "I not only know this man, I've flown with him." And he said, "Well, can we rely on his report?" And Bartlett said, "Absolutely."

At this time then, President Kennedy had a U-2 (airplane) go over the area and remain there until he was out of fuel and glided 150 miles into Kotzebue without the use of his engine.

At that time, the Kotzebue field was closed and the Airforce came over there. One, picked up his photographs. Two, fueled up the airplane. And then later opened the field to other traffic.

All of what I have told you is true. I feel that this is the greatest contribution I could have made to my country.

Later on, it's the end of the week, we had a man from the Atomic Energy Commission in Las Vegas come up to measure the radiation and fall out. And I was given an assignment of flying him up and down the coast in order that he might check this fallout.

And although we never did receive any reports on it, I was with him when he checked one of his filters. And, as he said, it wasn't too bad it only hit the peg.

As you know, later on, Senator Bartlett insisted that we have the Hanford Atomic Energy Project send a man up here to check the horns of the caribou and the baby's teeth. I -- I haven't heard of them coming up here recently, but I do know that they're still saving the teeth.

Any questions?

BOB WRIGHT: Yeah, I was going to ask you just a few. My quick calculation would lead me to believe that the fire that you observed was probably what, five thousand feet high at a point? Four --

TONY SCHULTZ: Somewhere, somewhere in -- Now, five thousand feet above my curve of the earth, that could have made it -- When you figure two hundred miles or there abouts, this could make it much more. But you see, I'm only -- I'm only going by line of sight.

BOB WRIGHT: Right. You say you saw -- you saw one large cylindrical cloud and then a couple days later it was this -- TONY SCHULTZ: Eight days later. BOB WRIGHT: Eight days later. TONY SCHULTZ: Eight days later.

BOB WRIGHT: Did they ever explain what the first cloud was, or was it -- ?

TONY SCHULTZ: No, there's no explanation on either one of them as far as I know.

I mean, this is where we get into this detente bit as you have read in Reader's Digest here again, shall we say, last year.

But this deal about the State Department wanting to, shall we say, stay on good terms rather than confront someone and say we have proof to such and so.

For instance, the Air Force man when I filed my report. I filed this report with Kotzebue radio. I said, "This is Wing 31 Delta. Be advised, the Russians have set off another atomic blast."

I didn't say I think or maybe. I said be advised.

The time was -- that I observed this was 5:59. It lasted for four minutes. "Advise military intelligence and this is not for news release." So that put the lid on that.

Then, the following Tuesday, after, shall we say, the information was confirmed by seismic elsewhere in the world, the commanding officer of the Kotzebue air base came to me and said, I quote, "We didn't believe you, but when the time you reported was confirmed, to the minute, elsewhere in the world, we had to believe that you saw what you reported."

In other words, it took this long to get somebody to believe even a little bit.

BOB WRIGHT: To -- to a non-flyer, Tony, if you were -- How high were you flying at the time of the incident?

TONY SCHULTZ: Approximately 3000 feet. I knew I had to have 3000 feet or more because it was getting dark and I had all these low hills around.

BOB WRIGHT: What kind of visibility would you have typically at 3000 feet in terms of -- ?

TONY SCHULTZ: Well, it had just stopped raining. In both cases, I was fortunate in that it -- the weather in the first case, on September 14th, we'd had this low cloudy condition and it -- when it is like that and clears up, the air gets crystal clear.

The same thing in this second case. The storm had come down from the low pressure area. It'd come down out of the northwest and when it does it just washes the air just crystal clear. You can see, shall we say, an object to a great distance, you know, if it were big enough.

BOB WRIGHT: Well, I was just wondering what you could see. I have no idea.

TONY SCHULTZ: Well, here again at night, I have the lights turned up on the airplane, because basically I'm flying on instruments because I know I got to have this much altitude and it's pitch black. And I mean, there's no moon, it's just plain, pitch black.

And all of a sudden this thing startles me right out of my wits, you know.

You can't believe the reaction you get until you're faced with some of these things, because you never -- you -- you -- there's no connection with the past. You can't go and read up on it or anything like that. Suddenly, it's there.

I might add that -- that I was later queried by the OSI man for almost three hours in which I -- He asked me many questions.

In each case, I had to refer to the fact that it was after dark, and that I know that there's no depth perception after dark. You can't measure the distance. So we just have to judge and estimate this item.

And his closing question to me was, "Well, what -- How -- how did you feel?"

And my remark was that to think that some individual, a representative of government or otherwise, could trigger a device of this kind.

And that someone else, or many others, would be in a position where there would be no way of escaping.

BOB WRIGHT: Was this the first time you'd seen a U-2 utilized in Alaska?

TONY SCHULTZ: I want to correct you on that. I did not see the U-2.

I only know about the incident, because I'm following the situation. But when I was advised that the U-2 was in Kotzebue and the field was closed, I returned to my point of departure.

BOB WRIGHT: Ah, I see. You were working in the Cape Thompson project in the early '60's?

TONY SCHULTZ: Plowshare, whatever you want to call it.

BOB WRIGHT: You -- Did you know people like Don Cook and Pruitt, I think? Don Foote, I'm sorry, Foote.

TONY SCHULTZ: Foote, I can't place him. But Pruitt, all I can remember is Pruitt says, "Well, don’t shoot the bear in the head." As he was clawing through the Jamesway hut, and this man was saying --

Let's put it this way, this man works up here at Fox on this project for CRREL (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory), and he said, "There I am, I got this .45, and then the bear's looking me in the face and drooling." And Pruitt's saying, "Doesn't -- Don't shoot him in the head." He wants to save the head.

By the way, while I was also on that project, I got quite well acquainted with the -- our -- the most famous fish biologist on the west coast, Lauren Donaldson.

And I flew him around, and he said, "Oh." He said, "That's some dead fish down there." I said, "Well, do you want to pick it up?" "Yeah, well -- " 'Cause I can just land on a sandbar someplace. And he just thought that was all right.

And he later had a -- In fact, just a few days before this, he had an attack. Apparently, he had an ulcer. And I had to fly him into Kotzebue.

And the reason that I was going back to Cape Thompson this particular night was that I had had five emergency flights in the afternoon or after dark in the previous week. So I felt that even though the runway wasn't lighted that I should go back there and spend the night.

I was supposed to be best man at a wedding in Kotzebue, and, of course, there again I didn't make that.

BOB WRIGHT: Just to briefly recap, you were born what, 1909, then? TONY SCHULTZ: Nineteen hundred and nine, right.

BOB WRIGHT: Where were you born? TONY SCHULTZ: In Bristol, South Dakota. BOB WRIGHT: So your father was --

TONY SCHULTZ: Just a few miles -- eleven miles from where Jerome Lardy was from.

BOB WRIGHT: Oh, really? Oh. Yeah, that's a real coincidence.

So your father, after he finished up in Nome, what about 1906, 1907 -- ? TONY SCHULTZ: It was the fall of 1906. BOB WRIGHT: Uh-huh, he went back to Bristol, then?

TONY SCHULTZ: Yes. And he -- he bought the first automobile. He had an EMF. I don't know what the EMF stands for now, but he had an EMF car that cost approximately the same price as a car would today, roughly $3,500.

And then he later was salesman or agent for them, and he sold one to his brother-in-law. To give you some idea of the lack of understanding, the man had plenty of money. He could drive his horses. But when he drove the car up to where the garage he built, he yelled, "Woah," and he didn't grab for the break. Consequently, he went right out through the other side.

Now, instead of trying to drive his car a little more proficiently before he finished his garage again, he reinforced the garage wall by using 2x6's, because he was going to be sure he stopped inside on the second try.

BOB WRIGHT: Geez. That's a tough way to stop.

TONY SCHULTZ: It is. Again, I'm saying these -- our thinking and it's -- our machinery and everything are -- are -- has changed so much in one lifetime.

BOB WRIGHT: It really has, hasn't it? It really has. Never dreamed of going several hundred miles an hour, fifty, sixty years ago..

TONY SCHULTZ: Or even seeing somebody go to the moon.

BOB WRIGHT: Yeah, right. Why don't we turn this off and then maybe we can talk about having me come out again sometime, at your leisure, and talk about some of your flying experiences and that stuff.